Tuesday, November 5, 2013

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Since the early 1990’s, I must have seen writer/director Jûzô Itami’s 1985 film Tampopo a dozen times. Just recently, I watched it again on a flight from Berlin to London. Like John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, it is a touchstone for me, something to revisit every few years, a work of humor, love, and obsession. Several vignettes ostensibly unrelated to the main plot nevertheless touch on it and its themes. One of my favorites involves a shopkeeper and his troublesome visitor...

Until that trip from Berlin. I had not fully appreciated how much the film had grown to inform and shape some of my own values. In it, the truck driver Goro meets Tampopo, a widowed mother who serves mediocre noodle soup in her small shop. Goro and a growing cohort of accomplices embark on a mission to turn Tampopo’s shop into the very best ramen joint around. An old ramen master joins, a canny chauffeur wise in the way of noodles, and a contractor with a secret. Competitors are tricked into revealing their methods and outright spying goes down. Along the way, viewers gain insight into what may make a proper bowl of Japanese noodle soup.

Ramen, as central as it is to the plot, is also a red herring. The movie is a celebration of the dish, sure, but more so it’s about single-minded pursuit of an ideal and that's something I can get behind. My taste is simple; I buy good things. There’s little point in laying out hard-earned money for cheap tools, clothes, food, furniture, or gear of any kind. Not everything has to be deluxe all the time, and I appreciate good value and the occasional quick-and-dirty fix to a problem, but in general I patronize artisans, distillers, designers, and cooks who buy into the pursuit of ideals, too, people and firms with tightly focused skills, whether that’s in barbecue, spätzle, blankets, knives, boots, whiskey, rum, or even paper and pens.

Over the next six to eight weeks, I’ll be kicking out ideas for holiday gifts. Not for me, mind you; I’ve already got most of this stuff. Rather, they will be things I’ve used and like — some booze, some books, a bit of gear and kit, a few ingredients worth having around.

First up: Tampopo. Netflix has it as a DVD or you can score a copy of an all-regions, letter-boxed release with English subtitles through Amazon

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